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Times of India
05 March 2011
By Revathi Ramanan
Chennai, India

Watching television for hours and not interacting with parents or other family members is pushing more children into the bandwidth of autism, say experts. From one in 1,000 children two decades ago, one in 60 children are now showing symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), such as poor social interaction and bad communication skills, said consultant paediatrician at the Sundaram Medical Foundation Dr Shanthi Raj.

Experts say that while autism itself is biological, the other disorders in the autism spectrum can be because of changing lifestyles and rapid advancement in technology. "Autism spectrum disorders and features are caused by environmental factors like being a single child, having no one to interact with, watching TV endlessly and not playing with children," said Shanthi Raj. The difference between autism and ASD is the severity of the symptoms.

With more children being left alone or in the care of maids, they end up watching television where communication is only one way, leading to ASD symptoms. "Children today are exposed to too much stimulation, too much information and such instrumentalbased stimulation in the form of TV or computer and video games can be harmful," said Shanthi Raj.

Treatment of ASD involves inducing behavioural changes by changing the environment. Experts ask parents to constantly communicate with their children, encourage peer group interaction, and cut down on TV. The Indian Academy of Paediatricians recommends that children below the age of three should not be allowed to watch television.

Adding a caveat, however, Shanthi Raj said that the increase in ASD cases could also be because of more awareness among parents. "Nowadays parents come to get their children checked if the child does not talk in two years, which was not the case 10-15 years ago," said associate professor at the department of speech language and hearing sciences department, R C Perumal.

While awareness of these problems has increased among parents, the medical fraternity is not quite aware of the correct diagnosis and treatment of ASD, said clinical neuropsychologist Dr B S Virudhagirinathan. Most cases of ASD are misdiagnosed as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). While change of environment alone can help in managing ASD, ADHD may require drugs for treatment. "Many doctors are unable to identify the symptoms and take effective measures," said Virudhagirinathan.

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